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Happy birthday, Internet! Here are your lamest lifetime moments

Susie Ochs, Mark Sullivan | Oct. 30, 2013
Yes, the Internet has brought us closer together, but sometimes it's felt like surfing in a sea of dumb.

The Streisand Effect
If something you think should be secret becomes public, it's only natural to want to raise a stink about the injustice of it all. But if you're a famous celebrity, think twice, or you might be the next victim of the Streisand Effect.

In May 2003, superstar Barbra Streisand sued photographer Kenneth Adelman, who had included images of her palatial Malibu estate in his California Coastal Records Project, a site featuring aerial photographs of the coast and intended for the use of researchers studying scintillating topics like erosion—not as a sneaky way to spy on Barbra Streisand or to help the unwashed masses find her home.

According to the 45-page ruling (PDF) dismissing the case, the image of Streisand's home had been downloaded from Adelman's site just six times (six, as in four less than ten) before the lawsuit—and Streisand's own lawyers accounted for two of those instances. Of course, with a lawsuit comes publicity; and over the next month, the photo received more than 420,000 views—all because she didn't want people to look.

At the conclusion of the proceeding, the court ordered Babs to pay $177,107.54 to cover the defendants' legal fees. (Ever the documentarian, Adelman posted a picture of the check he received.) And the term "Streisand Effect" was coined by Techdirt's Mike Masnick to describe the flood of attention that results when you try to censor something on the Internet.

Ridiculous idiots acting abhorrently
Remember when the Recording Industry Association of America adopted the practice of sending scary-sounding "prelitigation letters" that accused people of illegal file sharing and demanded that they agree to a cash settlement if they didn't want to be sued into oblivion? In pursuit of its intellectual property claims, the RIAA sued a 12-year-old girl and made her cry, and it went after hundreds of college students too.

Not everyone took the abuse lying down. One woman even turned around the sued the RIAA, accusing the trade group of racketeering for using such scare tactics to extort money. But one defendant the RIAA tried to scare—an 83-year-old great-grandmother from West Virginia named Gertrude Walton—didn't react at all. And that's because she was dead. The RIAA accused Walton of sharing 700 or so songs under the handle "smittenedkitten," though it later turned out that she (a) had passed away a month earlier, and (b) didn't own a computer or allow one in her house. The RIAA insisted afterward that it was all just a mixup, though Walton's daughter had received the prelitigation settlement offer and had responded with a copy of her mother's death certificate, and though the RIAA had filed suit anyway. In 2008, the RIAA announced it would stop filing such suits and would instead work with ISPs on a three-strikes system, targeting egregious offenders instead of little kids and deceased octogenarians. Yeah, good move.


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